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Little Egret

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A distinctive pure white bird with long legs and neck. Seen near water across Dorset.


Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

Little Egret: new horizons

Post date: Thursday, 29 January, 2015 - 00:00

A common sight in Dorset these days is the elegant little egret (Egretta garzetta). Despite its fondness for feeding in muddy places it always looks immaculate in its pure white attire. 

When I started out 'birding' back in the 1970's seeing a little egret was a major event but by the mid-eighties they had established as a UK breeding species and now they can be seen as far north as Inverness. I remember getting a phone call one morning, it must have been 1987, from someone we knew who said he had seen a albino heron in the field opposite his house in Stockbridge, Hampshire. Within 20 minutes I was there and was delighted to a little egret feeding alongside the River Test; that was the first one I had seen inland and some distance from the coast.
The spread of the little egret has been quite remarkable and that gives rise to speculation that possibly the spoonbill, which is now a frequent visitor to Poole harbour, and possibly the cattle egret may colonise our shores as well.  Indeed, the spoonbill does now nest in this country but that is a different story.
Frequent seen around Poole and Christchurch harbours nowadays but you can also find them inland along the fields near our main rivers. I have seen fifteen or more near Shillingstone on the Stour, five in fields near Wareham by the river Frome and also one on the stream in Bere Regis. Expect them anywhere in the county now.


Little Egret in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Post date: Friday, 1 February, 2019 - 20:16

Anyone who has taken up 'birding' in the last twenty years or so will take little egret as an almost everyday sighting and not unusual at all and will not know that that has not always been the case. In these days of doom and gloom with so many species in decline the little egret is certainly one, along with a small number of other 'water' based species, who are bucking that trend, doing very well and spreading their range in Britain. Apparently you can see little egret as far north as Inverness now. I saw my first one in 1986, ten years after starting bird watching and that was quite an event at the time.

In Dorset you can now see little egret all year round and in all sorts of locations. They can be frequently seen in coastal marshes and along the county's rivers, sometimes in good numbers; I have seen nineteen in a single tree at Middlebere. The distribution map shows just how widely spread they now are and how far inland they can be encountered. The coastal sites are mainly those with saltmarsh (Poole and Christchurch harbours and the Fleet) and inland tend to follow the Stour and Frome river valleys but they can also be found around large inland lakes and reservoirs such as Longham Lakes.

The charts showing when you can see little egret in Dorset are, I believe, quite misleading and are a reflection on the vagaries of Twitter reporting rather than fluctuations in populations due to migrational movement or breeding cycles. Little egret can be seen in favoured locations all year round and their numbers, as far as I am aware, are not rapidly increasing. That said, there are three times as many reports in 2018 than there were in 2017 and there is a surge in reports from July 2018 onwards. A look at where the reports come from I think explains this; Holton Lee has received far more attention in recent times and you cannot go to the hide on the marsh at Holton Lee and not see a little egret feeding; by far the most records come from Holton Lee on the western end of Poole Harbour. Neighbouring Lytchett Bay has a good number of records too along with various other sites within Poole Harbour,

If little egret is on your target list to see then probably your best bet is to head to Arne and follow the Coombe Heath trail and you will see them in the Middlebere Channel at low tide or in nearby trees at high tide. 


The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Sites List Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Original Tweets Relatives Guidance Notes
Common Name Little Egret
Scientific Name Egretta garzetta
Status Frequent
Interest Level
Species Family Herons, Egrets and Bitterns
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Preferred Environment
  • Mudflats
  • Lakes and ponds
  • Rivers
  • Harbours, estuaries and lagoons
Look for A white heron with black bill and black legs
Additional Identification Notes
  • A rarity until the 1980's but now our most common heron/egret species
  • Always immaculately groomed in white but the black legs and bill distinguish it from other white egrets which also tend to be much rarer
  • Can now be seen not only on the coast but on rivers, lakes and ponds inland too  
Similar Species